Social Web

The future of my personal sharing habits

I’ve been rethinking the value of a centralised and hosted social network like Facebook and Google+ for personal sharing lately. Maybe the kids are on to something with messaging apps as their main way to share stuff with each other? I have this sense that networks like Facebook and Google+ (although Google+ is a little odd) could be intermediary steps towards something different.

For a while, a distributed social network seemed to be the way to go but Diaspora didn’t gain much traction at all. The large networks have hug appeal because of the network effect but the flip side is a degree of abuse we have come to accept in the form of personalised marketing and increasingly public privacy settings. Facebook is rapidly becoming a next generation MySpace with more and more “sponsored stories” in my News Feed. I still really like Google+, it is pretty clean and there are no ads (yet) but it still lacks meaningful personal sharing with friends and family so I treat it more like Twitter.

I’ve been using Path more often and although almost none of my friends and family are using it with any degree of reliability (or at all), I’m enjoying the interaction with a couple people who are using it and that interaction has me thinking that until my day to day friends and family use Path (if ever), Path could well be more of the network where I make new friends. Path being mobile and beautifully designed makes it an easy choice to share stuff and engage, even if the extent of my engagement is pretty limited.

Maybe it’s a phase I am going through at the moment (a safe guess, I do this periodically) but I find myself sharing less on Facebook (at one point I was sharing pretty actively with friends and family, as opposed to publicly). I use Google+ relatively often and at least as often as Facebook. I also use Google+ Photos as my primary photo backup and sharing resource so there’s that.

Twitter still isn’t a social network for personal stuff for me, so much, but the idea of focusing on Twitter for general stuff appeals to me. Certainly, I think I am finally starting to appreciate Twitter’s relative simplicity after about 6.5 years even as it starts to become more Facebook News Feed like.

For now, I like the idea of a relatively lightweight, mobile social layer for personal sharing. I started thinking about iCloud even being that social layer for me but being Mac/iOS specific is pretty limiting. That being said, Path is limited to iOS, Android and Windows Phone (I think). Both iCloud and Path would need to be used in conjunction with Facebook for the time being to have value from the perspective of the majority of my connected friends and family so wondering why to bother with anything other than Facebook happens frequently too.

This is all pretty convoluted and probably a lot more complicated that it should be. That, in itself, is a sign that simplification is much needed and the logical choice would be to just cut back on everything but Facebook and Twitter. But is placing even more reliance on Facebook such a good idea? I guess the same thing applies to Google+, Path or anything I don’t really have much control over. Here comes that circular ride again. Ugh!

This is beginning to feel like a grand social experiment in a really big and colourful maze. There could even be a big button somewhere which we can press to be fed.

Social Web Web/Tech

Tent: a protocol for an open and distributed social Web

I wrote about our increasingly urgent need for a distributed and open Web last week and I came across a Google+ post linking to Tent which is a protocol designed to help make that happen:

Tent is a protocol for open, decentralized social networking. Tent users share content with apps and each other. Anyone can run a Tent server, or write an app or alternative server implementation that uses the Tent protocol. Users can take their content and relationships with them when they change or move servers. Tent supports extensible data types so developers can create new kinds of interaction.

Tent is for sharing with others and seeing what others have shared with you. You can ask to follow other users and other users can follow you. Because you control your own Tent server, it is also a good place to store things you do not want to share with others, a sort of personal data vault. It can also be used as a secure site login replacement so you don’t need passwords when accessing other sites on the web.

Governments and companies are debating the future of the Web in closed sessions and are talking about regional firewalls and similar efforts to balkanise the Web. As citizens and users, we are often left out of the loop and information about those closed proceedings are deliberately kept from us. Invariably the motivation behind these efforts is to protect content- and IP-based businesses and while it’s important to protect intellectual property and encourage creativity and innovation, these efforts are focused more on protecting established business models at the expense of the open Web.

Tools to build an open Web are increasingly important and urgent for a variety of reasons, whether those reasons include protecting the Web from virtual land grabs or overreaching political bodies and their corporate sponsors. This stuff is important.

Social Web

Google+ – you're just using it incorrectly

I have recently started using Google+ a lot more and the more I use it the more value it has for me. Rich Mulholland recently quipped that I am the only person using Google+ in South Africa and it turns out there are a lot more South Africans on Google+ although I don’t have a sense how many people are actually using it. I suppose that’s the point. Everyone can be signed up but if no-one is using it then it is still irrelevant. I don’t think that is the case at all (for one thing, the metrics used to compare Google+ with Facebook and Twitter are not appropriate), though, and I came across a post in my stream this morning which is worth reading (even by Google+ naysayers). It is titled “How I learned to love Google+” and its not written by a tie-dyed Google fanboy. This one paragraph sums it up for me:

People who find no value in Google+ are using it incorrectly. I’m sorry, it is the truth. You cannot be a watcher on Google+. On Twitter it is perfectly fine to sit back and watch the tweets go by. Pick up some information here and there and get your fill. You probably aren’t getting the most out of it, but it works because there’s so much information. If you are just watching Twitter, you will not find the same experience on Google+, mainly because there is information overlap, but also because Google+ users have oriented their posts and their experience towards conversations.

What I have realised about Google+ is that, while it can work pretty well as a Facebook-style social network, it works best if you look at it as a Twitter-style social network. Most of my friends and family are not on Google+ (even my wife terminated her account and has no real interest using it) so Facebook remains the place where I share all that personal stuff with them. On the other hand, Google+ has become a source of terrific conversations around various interests and topics and it’s structure is far more conducive to coherent conversations than Twitter, despite Twitter’s moves to draw conversational elements together.

Google+ doesn’t replace Twitter although I go through phases where I spend more time on Twitter and others where I spend a lot less because it frustrates me. My Twitter use is more out of an acknowledgement that there is huge value is going where the people are than a particular affinity for the service. On one hand I have tremendous respect for the work they do to protect their users’ rights and, on the other hand, aspects of the company culture bug me. Still, I have over 3 200 people who notionally follow me on Twitter and who form part of a terrific community who add real value to my life.

I am also not sure how much I should be relying on Google+ given its emphasis on Google’s platforms over others but balkanisation of the Web and social services seems to be a trend we are going to have to live with. The battle lines are forming between Google on one hand and an Apple-Facebook-Twitter coalition on the other side and that means co-operative interoperability remains a dream for the time being. What this means for me is that my publishing strategy remains complicated with different levels of engagement across Twitter, Facebook and Google with a fair amount of cross posting where the content is relevant to all 3 communities.

None of this is to say you must use Google+ but its worth having an active profile there. For one thing, Hangouts are worth being part of the service if you use nothing else. This feature makes Google+ really compelling to me because it is incredibly easy to do things like this (there is some wonky stuff happening with this video embed so if it doesn’t display, check it out on YouTube directly):

With Hangouts I can have a Q&A session with marketers about relevant legal issues without hosting a conference to get the points across. Well, conferences afford people with other opportunities and I intend doing some of those too but Hangouts give me a way to engage with a couple interested people and talk about issues that interest them in an informal setting and then the “On Air” bit allows me to stream that video to YouTube and embed it for later viewing. Oh, and the cost is time and the little bandwidth Hangouts consume. Wow! My mind is still blown away when I think about this even though this has been a feature since Day 1.

Going forward I’d really like to see an iPad version of the awesome iPhone app or a better Web app but the versions available work well enough. I’d also really like to be able to write to Google+ from apps other than Google Reader but that may come soon. Google I/O happens on the 27th of June and we may see some announcements there.

Bottom line here remains what I said about a year ago in my post about Google+:

If you are coming from Twitter and Facebook, Google+ may not be all that appealing to you. It may be because you are missing what makes Google+ so interesting or because your contacts and friends won’t be moving across so there is no incentive for you to either. That’s ok. Just bear in mind that there is something really dynamic and powerful happening there and you’re just not part of it.

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